William (“Billy”) Lee

Portrait of Washington and Billy Lee by John Trumbull, 1780

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QUICK FACTS
BORN:
c. 1750
  DIED:
1828 at Mount Vernon, Virginia
Buried in the slave burial ground at Mount Vernon.

  • During the summer of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Washington presiding, Billy Lee stood behind his master’s chair and tended to his personal needs.
Portrait to come. See entry in Wikipedia. George Washington's long-time valet, William Lee, suffered two serious accidents in the 1780s which dislocated the knee caps of both legs, resulting in permanent disability. Because he could no longer perform his regular duties, Lee became the plantation's shoemaker instead.

 

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Washington’s refusal to accept a salary for his services was emblematic of his somewhat ostentatious public virtue. He did open a public expense account, however, and some have claimed that he made money from it by overcharging Congress. In fact, the £150 per month that he requested for expenses was not just for him, but also for his entourage, which sometimes swelled to a crowd. His account books, which still exist, list charges for things like ferry fares, innkeepers’ fees, candlesticks, saddle repair, meat, fruit, mounds of cabbages and beets, and (admittedly) oceans of grog, liquor, and wine. Washington even charged Congress for fifteen shillings Cash paid a beggar by the General’s order. But although he was not averse to placing his headquarters in the occasional mansion, he otherwise made do with precious few luxuries.

Edward G. Lengel
General George Washington: A Military Life (2005)